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Crone Club: Making female ageing and menopause a club you want to be part of

A growing movement is reclaiming ‘crone’ as a badge of honour and helping to create a new narrative for female ageing.

NOW THEN image 4 Crone Human Library Change the story Justine Gaubert Lyn Hodnett Festival of the Mind 2022

Festival of the Mind is almost upon us again and amongst its cornucopia of delights will be The Crone Human Library - a collaboration between Crone Club’s Justine Gaubert and two academics from the University of Sheffield. I chatted to Justine to hear more about the upcoming event and how Crone Club is encouraging women to celebrate ageing.

What is a Crone?

Check out ‘crone’ in the dictionary and you’ll find “a cruel or ugly old woman.” Some believe it originated from the Old North French charogne, literally meaning "carrion" - decaying meat - which gives you some indication as to the patriarchy’s feelings towards older women!

But there’s a growing movement, first ignited by founders of the Women’s Movement as they hit midlife in the 1980s - Jungian analysts such as Dr Jean Shindoda Bolen and Clarissa Pinkola Estes - who kicked off the movement to ‘reclaim crone’ as a POSITIVE archetypal figure - the Wise Woman, and the third aspect of the ‘Triple Goddess’, which in neopagan terms represents the third act of a woman’s ‘circle of life’: Act 1. Maiden. Act 2. Mother. Act 3. Crone.

This is why you’ll start coming across more positive definitions of ‘crone’ meaning ‘crown’ - a symbol of the wisdom and power that women can have in older age. This is reflected in the growing popularity of ‘crone crowning ceremonies’ - or ‘a croning’. This is a ‘right of passage’ ritual, usually around the age of menopause, and/or a ‘significant’ birthday such as hitting 50 or 60, which celebrates a positive ‘stepping into’ our third act of life without fear and without shame.

The Crone began re-emerging into our consciousness in the early 1980s, and today many older women are embracing this connection. We are tapping into the ancient crone’s attributes of wisdom, compassion, transformation, healing laughter, and bawdiness. The ancient crone archetype strengthens our belief and confidence in age-accumulated knowledge, insights and intuitions enabling women to stand up for their rights.

Anya Silverman

I just loved this idea of reclaiming ‘crone’ as a celebration of the wisdom, freedom and personal power of women in midlife and beyond - and especially the idea of having a crone crowning ceremony as a positive celebration of menopause and female ageing. I take great comfort in this rich seam of knowledge and wisdom from the women who have trodden the path before us.

NOW THEN image 1 Crone Crowning Justine Gaubert by Laura Page

Crone Crowning: rite of passage ritual celebrating the ‘third act’ of a woman’s life.

Photograph of Justine Gaubert by Laura Page Photography.

What is Crone Club?

I set up Crone Club last year as I was approaching my 50th birthday, had hit perimenopause, and my social media feed was flooded with adverts for ‘anti-ageing’ creams, cosmetic surgery, and content rich in menopause fat-shaming. I noticed that for the first time in my life, I was starting to feel anxious about getting older.

Initially, Crone Club was a private Facebook group of a few pals going through similar stuff so we could have a laugh (and a cry!) about the changes we were experiencing, and so that we could ‘considerately cheer each other on’. But I also wanted to use the group as a space to find and share POSITIVE stories from older women who could reassure us that it wasn’t all as shit as we are led to believe, that there was life after menopause (a good one!), and to find and celebrate some ‘crone icons’.

In our group we also do ‘crone assignments’ to explore our feelings towards ageing, and hopefully to co-create some positive content to contribute to a healthier narrative for female ageing.

In short - Crone Club is a creative celebration of our ‘third act’ - to hopefully help us all feel more positive about ‘joining the club of midlife and beyond’. After all, age is a privilege that sadly, many are not even lucky enough to reach. We want to seek out and celebrate the joy and freedom that can be found in later life.

Why do we need a new narrative for female ageing?

Whilst it’s great that Davina McCall and Mariella Frostrup et al have got menopause into the mainstream narrative, so much of the narrative about getting older as a woman is still fear-based. That ageing is something to fight, and menopause something to ‘fix’.

And yet a recent report by the Centre for Ageing Better said that women in their 70s reported being the happiest demographic, so those positive stories are out there - they just aren’t getting through. But it’s really important that they do! The damaging effect of negative stereotypes of older age are well documented - in terms of limiting older people’s access to both jobs and health care.

The language we use matters because it can influence public opinion, which can in turn influence policy choices and decisions. For example, older people are more likely to be prescribed antidepressants than talking therapies, and the treatment of depression and anxiety in older people is not considered a priority in many areas. The normalising of worthlessness of old age feeds into our own perception of self and subtly validates discrimination in employment and other areas.

Reframing Ageing report, Centre for Ageing Better

And you’re not telling me that this doesn’t filter down to younger generations too. There were some horrific stats recently about the number of girls and young women in the UK seeking plastic surgery - this toxic narrative about fighting ageing at all costs filters down and adds fuel to the fire on the whole body image thing, and the mental health of our young people too. This focus on what we look like rather than what we do is not helping any of our generations and we all have a part to play in creating a healthier narrative.

You're collaborating with Dr Lorna Warren and Dr Pam Mckinney for the upcoming Festival of the Mind. How is the project shaping up?

Ooo yes. The Crone Human Library! The aim of our project is to create a space to share some POSITIVE stories about getting older as a woman, to hopefully make younger women and girls in particular feel less fearful about getting older, and to break down some of the negative stereotypes of older age.

The Human Library concept originally comes from a Danish idea and was brought to Sheffield by Juliann Hall, who told me about it.

NOW THEN image 2 Crone Club Anti Ageing Cream advert Fierce Acceptance

Crone Club - a celebration of female ageing.

It works a bit like a normal library - as a ‘reader’ - you’ll come into the tent and browse through a series of book titles such as: ‘Becoming a Body Positive Model at 60’; ‘Sex, Blogging and Activism at 80’; or ‘The First Lioness - Playing for the England World Cup Team in 1972.’

…but rather than taking out a printed book, you’ll be taken into a booth and introduced to the actual human being who has the ‘lived experience’ of that book title, and then have a face-to-face conversation with them for 20 minutes.

Our pop-up Crone Human Library will be open for just 1.5 hours on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 September in Festival of the Mind’s Spiegeltent on Barker's Pool. Places are limited and to be in with the best chance of being a reader, sign-up to Crone Club’s mailing list: or drop me an email [email protected] and you’ll be the first to know when the Eventbrite link goes live.

NOW THEN image 3 Ex Libris Sweary tea towel crone club merch example

Coming soon! Crone Merch that celebrates Freedom, Ferocity and Sisterhood like this Ex Libris sweary tea towel - ‘The most expensive tea towel you will never need’.

Concept by Justine Gaubert, artwork with thanks to legendary artist Lyn Hodnett and Robert Regester for the artwork.

What's on the horizon for Crone Club in the longer term?

I’m working on a book with the award-winning photographer Laura Page called ‘Tits to the Wind - Reasons to Feel Good About Midlife, Menopause and Beyond’, and hopefully a crone children’s book and ‘Crone Top Trumps’ with a wonderful illustrator.

Plus we’ve got so many ideas for more bat-shit crazy events, crone membership, crone merch, training-for-ageing courses and ‘Crone Camps’ to help women in midlife age better, including a Crone-in-training online course, an online crone shop to promote crone creativity and businesses, and creative campaigns to take more positive stuff into the mainstream.

But as with everything, it’s going to come down to time and money. If anyone would like to make a contribution to the reclaiming crone movement, we’ve just set up Patreon on the website.

by Felicity Jackson (she/her)

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